NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.14.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

South

Midwest

  • The Creighton Bluejays aren’t bothered by Alabama‘s defensive prowess going into their opening round matchup. Creighton has pulled off wins against athletic teams in Long Beach State, Wichita State and San Diego State, but in an elimination setting, the margin of error becomes thinner.
  • Kansas forward Thomas Robinson responded to some early smack talk from Detroit‘s Eli Holman prior to the team’s departure for Omaha. Holman was probably doing his best to keep confidence high, but likely generated some bulletin board material in doing so. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Bubble Teams Hanging On: Four Big East squads reside in the purgatory known as Bubbleville, but all are still hanging on to their projected NCAA bids. Cincinnati, Seton Hall, West Virginia, and Connecticut are all projected to be in the NCAA Tournament field as of this writing according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, but it’s the Pirates who are really skating on thin ice. The Hall is one of the “last four in” and has a huge opportunity this week against Georgetown. Cincinnati has a similar opportunity against Louisville while West Virginia has two excellent chances to seal the deal this week. As for Connecticut, the Huskies appear to be imploding. How UConn responds against Villanova on Monday night and Syracuse this coming Saturday will determine its fate.
  • South Florida Guaranteed a Winning Record: With its win at Pittsburgh on Sunday night, South Florida won its tenth Big East game for the first time ever and is now guaranteed at least a 10-8 Big East finish. However, the Bulls have their sights set higher. Thanks in part to a backloaded schedule, USF’s best win to this point is over bubble team Seton Hall, but upcoming games against Cincinnati and West Virginia could push the Bulls towards the field if they can win. South Florida needs to finish at least 12-6 in order to have a chance at a bid. Even with that, the Bulls will likely need to do a lot of work in New York City. A 12-6 league record is usually automatic, but not when your best non-conference win is Cleveland State. How much does Stan Heath want the close losses to Southern Miss (two points) and Connecticut (three points) back now?

Darius Johnson-Odom And The Golden Eagles Embarrassed The Huskies On Saturday.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) – I can hardly remember a year with zero change at the top of the league rankings. Syracuse is simply a cut above every other team in this league although Marquette and Georgetown have closed the gap a little bit over the last few weeks. Syracuse flirted with losses twice last week, but won gutty road games at Louisville and Rutgers. The Orange held Louisville without a point over the final 3:30 and won by a point despite shooting 1-15 from deep and Scoop Jardine going 0-8. Syracuse shot 34% for the game, but limited Louisville to 35%. Against Rutgers, Syracuse shot 50% and Jardine played much better (17 points, 7 assists). C.J. Fair had a stellar game, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Kris Joseph added 14 for the victors as they moved their overall record to 27-1. Rebounding remains a concern (31-26 Rutgers on the glass), but the Orange continue to roll along. Syracuse will battle Kentucky for the top overall seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. This week: 2/22 vs. South Florida, 2/25 @ Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Big East Adds Memphis: While conference realignment is unfortunately all about football, the addition of Memphis to the Big East Conference is a boon for basketball. With the league losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, it needed a strong basketball program to limit the damage of three venerable programs departing. Memphis is perhaps the best the Big East could do from a basketball perspective and the Tigers will begin competing in the conference in the 2013-14 academic year. While the Big East cannot replace a program with the stature of Syracuse, Memphis is arguably at least as good, if not better, than Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Temple would be the next logical choice from a basketball perspective but Villanova has long been rumored to be firmly in opposition to the Owls joining the league. Conference realignment is a new reality and won’t end any time soon. Expect some more dominoes to fall over the coming months and years.
  • West Virginia Reportedly Settles: Just 36 hours after Memphis joined the Big East, West Virginia reportedly settled with the Big East on an exit agreement, although no official announcement was made. If the Charleston Daily Mail report is correct, West Virginia will leave the Big East on July 1 of this year in order to join the Big 12 Conference. The reported agreement says that WVU will pay the Big East $11 million, with the Big 12 contributing $9 million. Big East bylaws require all member institutions to give 27 months notice before leaving the conference. If the Mountaineers do leave the conference, the Big East will have 15 basketball members for next season (2012-13) before expanding again in the summer of 2013. Of course, West Virginia’s early exit could pave the way for agreements with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, allowing those schools to leave early for the ACC. In a worst-case scenario, the Big East will have 13 basketball teams in 2012-13. One thing is for sure, this story is far from over. Stay tuned.
  • NCAA Denies Connecticut’s Waiver Request: In what was another good move by the increasingly tough NCAA, the governing body denied a request by Connecticut to retain eligibility for the 2013 NCAA Tournament in exchange for self-imposed penalties. Those penalties included forfeiting revenue and playing a shorter schedule. The Huskies would not quality for next year’s tournament because of their low APR rating, below the four-year minimum requirement of 900 or two-year average of 930. UConn will appeal the decision, one that, if denied, could have a huge effect on the basketball program in Storrs. Will Jim Calhoun stick around? Will recruits want to come there and knowingly sit out a year? Many questions still need to be answered as the Connecticut basketball program enters a period of uncertainty.
  • Win Number 880 for Jim Boeheim: The Syracuse legend now stands alone in third place on the all-time Division I wins list behind Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight after Syracuse beat Georgetown last week. Number 880 is one better than Dean Smith, a legend in his own right at North Carolina. While it is unlikely that Boeheim can catch Krzyzewski since both will keep winning, the Orange coach can pass Knight early next season, especially if Syracuse goes on a deep NCAA Tournament run. It’s so rare to see an athlete or a coach stay at one school for his entire career in sports these days but that’s exactly what Boeheim has done. The Hall of Famer has been at Syracuse as a coach since 1969 and played for the Orange from 1962-66. What a truly remarkable career spanning 50 years (and still going strong).

Josh Pastner Looks Forward To Embracing A More Challenging Change of Scenery In The Big East

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (25-1, 12-1) – The Orange dispatched their chief rivals in the Big East, Georgetown and Connecticut, in vastly different ways last week. Against the Hoyas, Syracuse needed overtime to put away a team that out-rebounded them 48-30 and slowed the pace to limit SU’s transition attack. Kris Joseph led Syracuse with a career-high 29 points and Fab Melo had six blocks as the Orange won by three in the extra session. Neither team played well, but Jim Boeheim picked up his 880th career win, moving ahead of Dean Smith and into sole possession of third place on the all-time list. Against Connecticut, the Orange broke open a close game in the second half with a 22-6 game-ending run. Syracuse shot much better (59%), including a scorching 63% from beyond the arc. Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair combined for 32 points and 16 rebounds off the bench while Scoop Jardine added 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting. It seems like Joseph is emerging as the go-to guy for this team, a question that had yet to be answered for the better part of the season. Syracuse faces a quick turnaround with a Big Monday game at Louisville, a team that has beaten them seven consecutive times. This week: 2/13 @ Louisville, 2/19 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 02.08.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 8th, 2012

  1. Finally, news that a school with a basketball history is set to join the Big East. Sources are saying Memphis will join the conference for all sports in time for the 2013-14 season. Money makes this decision a no-brainer for the school, but I am not so sure Josh Pastner should be that excited. They haven’t been their usual dominant selves this season, but they are still clearly the class of Conference USA. No other team in the conference can compete with the Tigers when it comes to recruiting, tradition, and facilities, but that will change when they move to the Big East. They have proven in past seasons that they can earn a top two seed even with their easier schedule, so what exactly do they gain from playing a tougher schedule and competing for more recruits?
  2. The rest of the league had the night off, so televisions around the globe tuned it to see last night’s battle between Villanova and Providence for the right to stay out of the conference cellar. The game featured very little defense and plenty of turnovers, but also plenty of intrigue. Redshirt freshman JayVaughn Pinkston scored 28 points and had 14 rebounds, including some big buckets down the stretch as ‘Nova rallied from a 19-point deficit to beat the Friars. Let’s face it, this game showed why both of these teams are where they are: inconsistency, youth, and not much defense. The good news is that both teams have interesting young talent. Assuming no one does anything silly, the Wildcats will return everyone on their team and add at least two impressive freshman.
  3. The big man woes for Marquette continue as the Golden Eagles aren’t certain when they will get Davante Gardner back from his knee injury. They have their fingers crossed he will be back Saturday when they play Cincinnati. Buzz Williams and company won two of three games since he has been out, but they could use his size and rebounding against a physical Bearcats team this weekend.
  4. Speaking of Mick Cronin‘s scrappy bunch, sophomore star Sean Kilpatrick got some much-deserved praise for his season so far. The 6’4″ combo guard leads the team in scoring (15.4 PPG) and is second in rebounding (4.8 RPG), but he is also commended for his leadership in what has certainly been an interesting year for the Bearcats. Cincinnati still has a lot of work to do to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but Kilpatrick has been a big reason why they are in this position in the first place.
  5. It’s time to stop pretending like it doesn’t exist, my colleague Pat here at the Big East microsite has a man-crush on newly minted 2012 recruit Nerlens Noel. He also has trouble masking his affinity for Providence, so it will make him very nervous to hear that No. 2 Syracuse may have an advantage thanks to Noel’s friendship with Orange freshman Michael Carter-Williams. Apparently the two are “best friends” and they have known each other for years thanks to AAU ball. At the same time, Carter-Williams also said he has not tried to sway his close friend at all, so breathe a little deeper Pat.
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Big East Morning Five: 02.01.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 1st, 2012

  1. Providence has struggled to find wins in conference play, currently sitting in last place at 1-8.  However Ed Cooley and company continue to win on the recruiting trail as multiple reports revealed yesterday that Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson will become a Friar.  No official announcement was made by the school at the time of this writing, but once all of the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed, Johnson will be slated to make his Providence debut next December.  The 6’8” power forward should add much needed frontcourt depth. Johnson, a top 100 prospect in the class of 2011, enhances an already high-profile 2012 recruiting class for Providence that includes two top 25 talents in shooting guard Ricardo Ledo and point guard Kris Dunn to go along with sharpshooter Joshua Fortune.  As presently constituted Providence does not have an open scholarship, but rumors have circulated recently that redshirt junior Bilal Dixon will transfer to Towson for his final year of eligibility. Johnson appeared in only three games for Arizona this season (0.3 PPG, 0.7 RPG).
  2. The latest chapter in the Bernie Fine saga has taken a soap-opera-like twist. An affidavit filed by Gloria Allred, the attorney representing Fine accusers Robert Davis and Michael Lange in a defamation suit against Syracuse University and head coach Jim Boeheim, alleges that Laurie Fine, wife of Bernie, had sex with a number of Syracuse players over the years. The suit says Boeheim defamed Davis and Lange when he questioned their motives for accusing Fine of molesting them and indicated they were lying for financial gain. In the affidavit, Davis, who is also on record as having consensual sexual relationships with both of the Fines, said Laurie Fine’s activities were common knowledge around the program and therefore Boeheim had to know what was going on. “Players used to talk openly about it as a known fact,” Davis said. Mrs. Fine’s attorney, Edward Z. Menkinquickly lashed back against Allred and the accusations. “This is both desperate and disgusting, an example of a lawyer flailing about to keep a dying lawsuit in the public eye,” Menkin told The Syracuse Post-Standard.
  3. Never thought you’d see Marquette’s Davante Gardner and the word thin in the same story?  Well, Gardner suffered a sprained knee against Villanova on Saturday so the Golden Eagles were without their 6’9”, 290–pound forward/center for last night’s 66-59 victory over Seton Hall. This further depleted an already thin Marquette front line as Gardner had been starting and playing increased minutes in the absence of Chris Otule, who is out for the year after suffering a knee injury in early December.  Gardner has responded positively to the increased role (11.4 PPG, 6.3RPG since the Otule injury heading into last night’s game), and is listed as day-to-day. Marquette next plays Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame.
  4. Louisville is another team that has been beset by injuries this season and their lack of bodies has meant trial by fire for freshman forward Chane Behanan.  To Behanan’s credit he has responded well and is churning out a solid rookie campaign. While Behanan’s steady progress has perhaps kept him under the radar and overshadowed by bigger freshman names such as Andre Drummond and Moe Harkless, it appears the secret is leaking out.  Behanan has started 22 of 23 games and is averaging 24.4 minutes per game.  Despite the heavy workload in his first year, rather than wearing down it appears that Behanan is gaining steam, posting averages of 12.7 points and 9.0 rebounds over Louisville’s last four games versus his overall season totals of 9.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
  5. The Big East continues to find itself the subject of realignment fodder as CBSSports.com reported yesterday that Louisville is “aggressively pursuing a Big 12 invitation.” As noted here at the time, Big 12 officials met last week to discuss the possibility of further expansion. While obligatory statements like, “There is nothing imminent” came out of that meeting, you can bet people did not just show up for the free Frescas and wing dings.  The Big 12 is sitting at 10 teams right now, or at least will be once West Virginia’s situation with the Big East has been worked out, and needs to decide whether it wants to stand pat or keep adding schools.  If they do expand further, doing so with one additional school does not seem to make sense.  But get this, the Big 12 actually going to 12 members probably does. If so, the Big East will remain firmly entrenched in the Big 12’s crosshairs for the foreseeable future.  As the CBS piece points out, Cincinnati would pop up next on the rolodex after Louisville.

Fresca Fuels Big 12 Expansion, Or Maybe Not (Photo: Fresca.com)

                                        
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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • A Bad Saturday for Big East Referees:  It started in Philadelphia in the noon game between Villanova and Marquette. The referees made themselves the story of that game, calling three technical fouls and 45 total foul in a 40-minute game. That game lasted well over two hours as the officials used their whistles to take all the rhythm out of what was a very good game. James Breeding doesn’t have the best reputation across the conference for the quality of his calls, but apparently he has a short fuse as well. Breeding called all three techs and embarrassed himself on national television in the process. I realize the Big East and NCAA want better sportsmanship, but nothing Jay Wright, Buzz Williams, or Maalik Wayns did warranted a technical foul. It’s never good when officials make themselves the story of the game, but that’s exactly what James Breeding did. The bad officiating continued in the Syracuse-West Virginia game as the crew of Karl Hess, Gene Steratore and, Brian O’Connell blew a goaltending call that was obvious to the 28,740 Syracuse fans in attendance at the Carrier Dome, the ESPNU commentators, and anyone who was watching the game. While the proper call would have only resulted in a tie game and actually given Syracuse a chance to win it in regulation, it denied West Virginia a chance to force overtime. Too often, we see officials swallow their whistles in the final minute to “not affect the outcome of the game.” Once again, a crew of officials decided to do just that and that decision negatively affected the outcome. While there’s no guarantee West Virginia would have won if the game went to the extra session, the Mountaineers were denied that chance by incompetent officiating. My beef is as follows:  I’m all for player safety, but this season it has been ridiculous how many times officials have gone to the television monitor to review elbows that may or may not have been thrown during the course of a game. If they can review every elbow that was ever thrown (not needed in my opinion) as well as end-of-half scoring plays, why can’t they review a call like that? Nobody likes slow games, but the officials should be permitted to review every call they aren’t 100% sure about. All in all, Saturday was a disgrace to the officiating profession.
  • Mike Brey, Coach of the Year?: At this point, it would be hard to argue against him. The Notre Dame head coach led his team to two road wins at Seton Hall and Connecticut last week, holding the home teams to a combined 90 points. Brey’s team executed the burn offense to perfection, protected the basketball and got timely rebounds. Notre Dame, considered an afterthought after Tim Abromaitis went down with a season-ending ACL tear, is now in the thick of the NCAA Tournament conversation. Brey seems to get the most out of his teams when expectations are low, and that reputation is holding true as we head into the crucial month of February. The Irish still have work to do in order to overcome a lackluster non-conference performance but Brey has his team well on its way towards a top half conference finish.
  • Pittsburgh Wins a Pair: After starting league play 0-7, Pittsburgh has won two straight. With Tray Woodall healthy and back in the lineup, the Panthers are a team nobody wants to face down the stretch. Jamie Dixon’s NCAA dreams are almost surely extinguished, but the Panthers have an opportunity to finish the season strong and end with a respectable record. Pittsburgh’s offensive efficiency improved in a big way with Woodall’s return, but its defense was outstanding in Saturday’s win over Georgetown. The Panthers posted an 86.5 defensive efficiency rating, by far their best against a quality opponent. Their season-best was 81.0 against St. Francis (PA) on December 20, their last win before beating Providence last week. With a softer schedule in February, Pittsburgh has the potential to make some noise over the season’s final nine games.

Dante Taylor And The Panthers Are Still A Proud Bunch. (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (22-1, 9-1) – After suffering its first defeat at Notre Dame, the Orange responded well in a win at Cincinnati two days later. Kris Joseph led the victors with 17 points on eight of 11 shooting. Still without Fab Melo, the Orange big men did an admirable job in his place. Rakeem Christmas had nine rebounds as Syracuse survived an early onslaught of Bearcat three-pointers. Syracuse then beat West Virginia on Saturday in a closer-than-expected game as the Mountaineers were able to score against the zone, mostly because of rebounding. Syracuse was out-rebounded 36-20, but committed only six turnovers as it survived the blown goaltending call in the final seconds. Brandon Triche had 18 points in the win. Rebounding has been a concern all season, but it’s obvious that Syracuse is not nearly as dominant with Melo out of the lineup. Free throw shooting came and went (33% at Cincinnati, 76.5% against West Virginia) but mental toughness is one of its biggest strengths. As we head into the teeth of the season, Syracuse is more prepared to absorb and respond to every team’s best shot. This week: 2/4 @ St. John’s.
  2. Marquette (18-4, 7-2) – I’m not overly impressed every time I watch this team, but it makes the winning plays when needed most. The Golden Eagles won a pair of games last week to push their winning streak to six games. Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and Davante Gardner combined for 47 points in a home win over South Florida on Tuesday, equaling the total points scored by the Bulls. Marquette ventured to Villanova on Saturday and was involved in one of the more bizarre games I have seen all season across college basketball. The game lasted two and a half hours and didn’t even go to overtime. 45 fouls (three technical) were called and 57 free throws were attempted in a game that wasn’t the finest moment for the officiating crew of James Breeding, Tim Clougherty, and Pat Driscoll. Breeding in particular had a short fuse, whistling Buzz Williams for a technical when the coach simply slipped and fell down. Memo to Breeding: Get over yourself, he wasn’t showing you up. Johnson-Odom had 26 points, Crowder added 20 points and 11 boards for Marquette and Jamil Wilson added 12 points off the bench. Marquette rallied from an 18-point deficit and forced 20 Villanova turnovers to key the comeback. This is a good basketball team, but one that has a ceiling. I’m not sure the Golden Eagles have the scoring depth to make a big run in March. This week: 1/31 vs. Seton Hall, 2/4 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was
  • Number One Goes Down:  For the seventh time, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took down a top-ranked team in the Joyce Center, knocking off Syracuse 67-58. Despite all of that prior success, the Irish hadn’t beaten a #1 team at home in 25 years. That didn’t matter on Saturday night. Taking advantage of Fab Melo’s absence, Notre Dame slowed the pace and worked the ball inside, scoring in the paint or kicking it out to an open shooter on the wing. Notre Dame shot 50% for the game and limited the Orange to 34%. Using a +13 edge on the glass, Notre Dame was able to control the tempo and prevent Syracuse from getting out in transition where it is so lethal. I have to say I was surprised. Looking at Syracuse’s schedule last week, I thought the Orange could run the table. They had played better than any team in the nation on a consistent basis but drove into a buzzsaw on Saturday. Even if Melo had played, I’m not sure it would have made a major difference.
  • South Florida On A Roll: It seems as if nobody has noticed, but South Florida is 5-2 in the Big East after a 2-0 week with wins over St. John’s and DePaul. USF has won on the road at improving Villanova and also took down Seton Hall at home when the Pirates were ranked. The Bulls also beat Rutgers, one game after the Scarlet Knights beat Florida. How has USF done it? Jawanza Poland has played very well since returning from a back injury and Stan Heath is getting timely contributions from guys like Victor Rudd and Ron Anderson Jr. However, the two main reasons for USF’s success are point guard play and defense. Freshman Anthony Collins has been fantastic at the point, averaging 5.3 APG in Big East play to go with a #28 national ranking in assist rate. Although he’s turning the ball over a bit too much, Collins has given the Bulls a huge boost at the most important position in college basketball after years of bad guard play in Tampa. On the defensive end, South Florida’s opponents average only 57.6 PPG, tops in the Big East. With a combination of defense, good rebounding and timely scoring, USF is starting to make some noise in the crowded middle of the Big East.

Pat Connaughton Celebrated With Fans After The Irish Stung The Top-Ranked Orange. (Matt Cashore/U.S. Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (20-1, 7-1) – The Orange remain the best team by far in the Big East and I still think they are the best team in the nation even after losing at Notre Dame. Nothing went right for the Orange against the Fighting Irish. The Orange were out-shot 50% to 34%, out-rebounded by 13, and couldn’t string stops together when they were trying to get back in the game.  Should we have seen this coming? The cracks in the foundation appeared in a closer-than-expected win over Pittsburgh last Monday. The Panthers probed the Syracuse zone fairly well, getting to the free throw line area and making good interior passes. Fab Melo had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in that game, but didn’t play in South Bend due to a mysterious academic issue. Pitt out-rebounded Syracuse 38-24, meaning the Orange were minus-27 on the glass for the week. Syracuse ranks #320 in defensive rebounding percentage, an issue that needs to be addressed immediately by Jim Boeheim, with or without Melo. Syracuse is struggling from three point land as well, tenth in three-point percentage in Big East games (31.9%). Scoop Jardine had 12 points and ten assists against the Panthers, but didn’t make a field goal (0-5) against Notre Dame. A tougher than expected week is ahead. Could the Orange lose again after winning 20 games in a row? This week: 1/23 @ Cincinnati, 1/28 vs. West Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Syracuse A Cut Above: With wins over Villanova and Providence this week, Syracuse has moved its record to 19-0 (6-0), equaling the best start in school history (1999-2000). On Monday night, the Orange will try to move to 20-0 for the first time ever when they host Pittsburgh, a team they have lost to five straight times. With 12 games remaining, people are starting to wonder if Syracuse can run the table. It would be a surprise if Jim Boeheim’s team lost at home to anyone, despite visits by Georgetown and Connecticut to the Dome in February. On the road, possible tough trips to Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Louisville appear to be the only obstacles standing in the way of an undefeated season. Syracuse has a 13.7% chance of going 31-0, according to the Pomeroy ratings, but I would put it higher. I think the Orange have a 40% chance to go all the way and those odds are getting better each and every day.
  • Connecticut Back On Track: After consecutive losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers almost two weeks ago, some had wondered if this Connecticut team would ever live up to its preseason billing as a top-five team. While I doubt that is true, the Huskies responded in a big way this past week by defeating West Virginia and Notre Dame. UConn used a 17-3 second half run, sparked by a Jim Calhoun technical, to overcome a ten-point deficit against the Mountaineers before going on the road and snapping Notre Dame’s 29-game home court winning streak. Andre Drummond had a terrific week, but the bigger story might be Alex Oriakhi showing signs of improvement. The junior forward had been in a season-long slump but managed to score 20 points this week, including a 12/7 performance in the win against the Fighting Irish.  However, there was some bad news mixed in for UConn last week. Ryan Boatright was suspended by the NCAA on Friday night for the second time over eligibility concerns.
  • Pittsburgh and Louisville Embarrassed: Raise your hand if you predicted these scores at the beginning of the year: Providence 90, Louisville 59. Rutgers 62, Pittsburgh 39 (at Pitt). Two of the power programs in the conference were waxed by two perennial bottom-feeders, all part of what has been an unpredictable season in the Big East. Louisville has lost four of six while Pitt is in more dire straits having lost six consecutive games. That could easily be seven in a row after the Panthers return from Syracuse tomorrow night. The good news for both teams? They bounced back and played fairly well in games on Saturday with the Cardinals disposing of DePaul and the Panthers nearly stealing an impressive road win at Marquette. Pitt lost the game, but Jamie Dixon had to have picked up some encouraging vibes from that performance. Pittsburgh and Louisville will get together this Saturday in the Steel City.

 

Ask The Never-Satisfied Jim Boeheim What He Thinks Of His Team's Chances At An Undefeated Season, And This Will Likely Be His Reaction. (Frank Ordoñez / The Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (19-0, 6-0) – This team just keeps on chugging along and nobody has really threatened the Orange in a big way this season. There have been close calls here and there (Stanford, Florida, and Marquette), but Syracuse is a cut above every other team in this conference. As I mentioned above, I believe there is a good chance this team runs the table in conference play. Dion Waiters scored 20 points at Villanova, part of 47 bench points for the Orange, compared to 32 for the starters. Syracuse held the Wildcats to 33% shooting on their home floor at the Wells Fargo Center. Against Providence, it was all Orange from the start. Syracuse had 12 steals and forced 22 Friar turnovers. Scoop Jardine played like a quality point guard, scoring ten points but dishing out nine assists. The Orange blocked ten Providence shots and shot 73% in the second stanza. Syracuse continues to rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but the Achilles heel for this team seems to be rebounding specifically on the defensive end. The Orange rank #307 in defensive rebounding percentage, but I don’t anticipate that being a major problem until tournament time. This week: 1/16 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/21 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 01.13.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 13th, 2012

  1. Dude, did you eat a bad pierogi at halftime or something? Pittsburgh is down and Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette is not about to let anyone forget it with his ‘piece’ yesterday. One that featured gems like, “Really. Practice some more. Or maybe less.” He also referenced one of Pitt’s players (yes, an amateur, college player) as being “awful.”  Yes, it was written fresh of an embarrassing 62-39 home loss to Rutgers.  Yes, it was the Panthers’ fifth straight defeat.  Yes, it was a game where Pittsburgh had just four baskets in the first half, a stat Collier pounced on. “Pitt made four field goals in the first half. Let me dive on the floor for some perspective on that. If you selected five Pitt students at random, subjected them to zero coaching, let them practice by themselves once a week, kicked each of them in the shins as they walked onto the court, they might get four baskets in 20 minutes.” OK, Gene we will take you up on that and do you one better. Grab four of your buddies, if you can find four, and roll over to The Pete. Try not to kick too many dogs along the way. The clock is set at 20:00.  Let’s see if you can get four buckets against the Panther team you are ripping. They’ll be waiting, as will Jamie Dixon and his 227-66 (.774) overall and 98-42 (.700) Big East record. I just hope I can be there to write about it.
  2. Many tout Syracuse as the deepest team in the country.  Well, Jim Boeheim added to his team in preparation to face a different bench as he has hired an attorney to defend him in the slander lawsuit brought by the alleged Bernie Fine sexual abuse victims.  C. James Zeszutek, a managing partner with Pittsburgh’s Dinsmore & Shohl law firm who holds three degrees from Syracuse (including his law degree), will represent Boeheim.  The plaintiffs, Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, brought the defamation suit against Boeheim in indicating that they had ulterior motives in their molestation accusations against Fine.  Zeszutek has expansive experience defending a number of college coaches, including the likes of Jim O’Brien and John Calipari when they were accused of NCAA violations at Ohio State and Memphis, respectively.
  3. Speaking of Syracuse’s depth, for how many teams would Dion Waiters start?  Um, most of them?  One of the few exceptions happens to be the team he’s currently on.  After something of an adjustment to a reserve role, the scoring, stealing, sophomore guard is excelling and feeling just fine about his role off the bench.  Waiters confessed, “It used to mess with me a little… I was one of the top 15 players in the country coming out of high school.  I expected to start as soon as I got here.”  Well, he did not, playing in 34 games as a freshman and starting none (6.6 PPG, 16.3 MPG).  Further, in his second year, he still does not.  Waiters has come off the bench in all of the undefeated Orange’s 18 victories to the tune of 22.3 minutes, 12.9 points and 2.9 assists per contest.  He is clearly comfortable with his role, as it has not deterred from his production.  His averages in points and assists are good for second on the team, while his 2.2 steals per game lead the way.
  4. We talk a lot about unheralded players here at RTC Big East, and it is finally Davante Gardner’s turn.  Before going further however, an apology is in order.  How could we have missed this guy?  He’s 6’8”, 280 pounds! In all seriousness, Gardner, in fact, has been on the radar.  We have touched upon the aspects of his assuming a bigger role in the absence of injured teammate Chris Otule.  Well, after after career-highs in points (22) and rebounds (15) in Wednesday’s win over St. John’s, Gardner now commands our full attention.  In some ways Gardner (9.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG) is a microcosm of his program and his coach.  Who gushes about #25 Marquette (13-4, 2-2) and Buzz Williams?  Yet, all they do is beat you time and time again. As Williams very appropriately stated on Gardner and his team, “His [Gardner’s] energy level on a daily basis and our team’s energy level on a daily basis determines a lot for us. Energy and attitude say a lot in life and say a lot in basketball.”  Gardner, who came off the bench in the Golden Eagles’ first eight games, has started seven of the last nine for the Golden Eagles, averaging 11.6 points and seven rebounds per game.
  5. It is Friday the 13th and, as luck would have it, a slow news day at time of writing so let’s have fun with numbers and take a look at ESPN’s latest power rankings from a Big East perspective.  Guess what?  Syracuse (18-0, 5-0) tops the list.  The Orange certainly sit head and shoulders above the rest of the Big East, and they seem to be inching away from the national pack as well.  Similar to the national polls, ESPN’s Top 10 consists of no other Big East teams.  Georgetown (13-3, 3-2) checks in next at #13. The Hoyas have been bitten of late, and are riding a two-game losing streak. Connecticut (13-3, 3-2) is sitting right behind Georgetown at #14.  The Huskies were rolling before back-to-back Garden State spoilings by Seton Hall and Rutgers before getting back on track with a victory over West Virginia.  At #24, Marquette (13-4, 2-2) rounds out the Big East power ranking presence.  The Golden Eagles, who are treading water with a 3-4 record over their last seven, have what could be perceived as a softer stretch coming up.  Their next five opponents consist of Pittsburgh, Louisville, at Providence, South Florida and at Villanova.
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ATB: No Road Blues, Pennsylvania Hoops Doldrums, and a Celebration of Buzz Williams’ Sport Coat…

Posted by rtmsf on January 12th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. It wasn’t as crazy as Tuesday’s action, but Wednesday night around the college basketball landscape held plenty of interest in the form of a number of ranked teams going on the road, a near-complete meltdown among the major teams in the Keystone State, and a career night from a Marquette sophomore and its coach’s sport coat. Let’s jump into it…

Michigan's Celebration Means Yet Another Northwestern Disappointment (DFP)

Your Watercooler Moment. Northwestern Can’t Win For Losing. Poor Northwestern. It’s probably only a weird mind trick that the Wildcats seem to have lost about a dozen games like this over the last several seasons — games that if a few bounces had gone their way, they may have finally found their way into the NCAA Tournament — but just a week after a heartbreaking one-point loss at home against Illinois, Bill Carmody’s team once again found itself on the short end of a game that they’ll file under what-could-have-been at the end of the season. Facing the prospect of a 1-3 Big Ten start with games in the next week against Wisconsin and Michigan State, the Wildcats had Michigan down in Ann Arbor by 10 points in the second half and managed to find ways to lose (or not win, more accurately) the game both in regulation and overtime. Northwestern had what looked to be the final shot at the end of regulation, but a drive by Drew Crawford ended in a weird traveling turnover call that resulted in the extra period. Then, when presented with an opportunity to make three FTs with 0.3 seconds left to tie the game in overtime, Alex Marcotullio managed to miss the first attempt, rendering the next two rather useless. As noted above, a couple of different bounces and the Wildcats are sitting pretty at 3-1 going into a brutal part of its schedule. Instead, they’re now facing a difficult 1-5 start to conference play and a near-impossible situation to get to 9-9 and have a reasonable shot to make the NCAA Tournament (even in a deep conference such as the Big Ten).

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Road Wins From Syracuse, Kentucky, Missouri and Kansas. As we have learned from an eternity of conference play, no team is ever completely safe on the road in conference play. Tonight, though, four of the Top 10 teams went on the road and took care of business. It’s true that their four opponents — Villanova, Auburn, Iowa State, and Texas Tech, respectively — are not among the elite of each conference, but a road win is a road win is a road win. As described below, Kansas’ destruction of Texas Tech in Lubbock was the most impressive victory, but Missouri’s bounceback win in Iowa State against a dangerous Cyclones squad, Kentucky’s late push to finish off Auburn, and Syracuse’s surgically methodical taking apart of Villanova are all worth noting. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 01.05.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 5th, 2012

  1. After some debate about who would start in place of injured center Chris Otule, Marquette coach Buzz Williams went with Jamil Wilson in lieu of Davante Gardner. But in the end, Gardner played 31 minutes and Wilson played just 14, and none of it mattered because neither made a big enough impact to stop Georgetown from rallying from a 14-point deficit at halftime to stun the Golden Eagles in a marquee early season conference match-up. Wilson finished with just four points and two rebounds while Gardner managed 11 points and four rebounds as Marquette lost its second straight game.  They did a good job containing the Hoyas’ underrated frontcourt, but it was Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson as usual who made the difference in the end. This would have been an excellent road win for the Golden Eagles, but alas, that will have to come from somewhere else.
  2. It isn’t every day that high-profile basketball coaches speak with true candor, but I guess when you are Villanova coach Jay Wright, and your team is 7-7 and in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in eight seasons, you don’t really have to worry about sugar-coating anything. Wright placed the blame for his team’s slow start squarely on himself and the rest of the Wildcats’ coaching staff, but he surprisingly lamented the loss of some of the team’s recent transfers, even going as far as to single out Taylor King and Malcolm Grant by name. The reason these players got their names in the newspaper was because Wright correctly thinks that his team is lacking leadership and toughness. They are also — at least according to KenPom — lacking in defense (#113 in Adjusted Defense ), creation of turnovers (#327 in defensive turnover percentage), and luck (#329), but who’s counting anyways? The point is, the program has fallen on hard times at least for the time being. There is no reason to believe that the Wildcats will stay down given Wright’s recruiting and coaching ability, but Villanova fans might want to start looking forward to next year rather than hoping for a miraculous turnaround in this one.
  3. One of Sports Illustrated‘s finest, Luke Winn, took the changing of the calendar to reflect on a few of his preseason predictions, including one that pegged Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, and Pittsburgh as the top four teams, and a severe drop-off after that. It’s hard not to agree with thoughts like Syracuse being the conference’s best team by a wide margin, and that the conference’s middle teams are as “soft” as they have been in a long time. I still think Louisville, despite its offensive struggles, will be a Top-10 team at the end of the year and UConn has a great chance to be in the mix as well. As for Pittsburgh, well, let’s just say that until they learn how to stop anybody, they look as soft as the rest.
  4. Yearning for more X’s and O’s links, well you are in luck, because The Mikan Drill broke down Pittsburgh‘s effective fast break and gave senior forward Nasir Robinson some high praise for his basketball IQ in the process. Much like Brad Wanamaker was last year for the Panthers, Robinson is a tough but versatile player who provides leadership, intelligence, and attitude for a team still finding its identity. I will leave the film breakdown to the more experienced, I just agreed that Robinson deserved some credit for his play and felt like highlighting it and probably will again in this space.
  5. Excellent piece recently in The Chicago Tribune about DePaul sophomore Cleveland Melvin and his journey to the Chicago after growing up on the rugged streets of East Baltimore. Melvin, the team’s leading scorer, rebounder, and shot-blocker, was the lone bright spot (23 points and eight rebounds) for the Blue Demons in their conference-opening loss to Syracuse. He will likely play another big role tomorrow night when DePaul looks to upset Pitt. In fact, I am calling it here early, I think DePaul, playing at home, against a struggling team that still doesn’t have the services of a healthy Tray Woodall, will pull off the upset tomorrow night. Of course it is just as likely that Pitt’s offense is too much for DePaul’s bad defense, even without Woodall, and this game turns into a blowout. But I will take the Blue Demons in this one.
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Set Your TiVo: 01.04.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 4th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Huge games in the Big East and Big 12 highlight tonight’s action, along with Duke’s final non-conference test. Here’s your schedule for tonight:

#8 Duke at Temple – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (***)

Will Dunphy Have His Owls Ready To Upset K's Devils? (Getty)

  • The Blue Devils have shockingly stayed out of the spotlight for the past few weeks, quietly handling their business in the non-conference. Perhaps the shellacking that Mike Krzyzewski’s team took in Ohio State in November was the wake-up call that this team needed, as Duke has won five straight in impressive fashion since that game. Coach K’s team is ranked 4th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive rankings, boasting the nation’s third-best true shooting percentage (60.6%) and eighth-best points per possession statistic (1.16 PPP), amongst many other impressive offensive numbers. As Austin Rivers continues to improve his decision-making and efficiency offensively, Duke gets harder to defend. The freshman is now up to a team-leading 15.4 points per game while shooting 46% from the field and 41% from three. If Rivers can penetrate the Owls’ defense to create good looks for the other Duke guards and himself, Duke will be in good shape.
  • Temple is an elite perimeter defensive team, where the Owls hold opponents to shoot 25.6% from three-point range, the fourth-best percentage in the country. Against a Duke team that loves to shoot the three, guarding the perimeter will again be priority number one in this game. In addition, Temple is strong with the ball and their 1.28 assist-to-turnover ratio is a top-30 national number, far better than Duke’s 1.02 ratio. By limiting their opponent’s long-range makes and winning the turnover battle, Temple will seek to gain an advantage at home. Their trio of guards Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, and Khalif Wyatt, all at 13.3 PPG or better, will look to neutralize Duke’s own trio in the scoring department. However, their best big man Michael Eric remains out with a knee injury, which could spell trouble against Duke’s 6’10” Plumlee brothers.
  • Duke is a seven-point favorite in this game and will be well-prepared in their final non-conference game. But the Blue Devils haven’t played a road game since their blowout loss at OSU, and Temple has the guards to match Duke. With Eric missing down low, Temple is without a key defensive cog, but they’ve been playing without him for over a month. Expect a hard fought game in Philly.

#17 Marquette at #9 Georgetown- 7:00 PM EST on ESPNU (****)

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